There’s a funny thing about rebuilds: Aside from the guys who are proven NHL players (stars like Taylor Hall, veterans like Andrew Ference) and the bluest of blue chip prospects (we’re talking Leon Draisaitl, not Martin Marincin) the rest of the guys on the team tend to be warm bodies who will end up spending many lovely years playing games in Germany and Switzerland.
Is that true of the current depth players in Edmonton, or are there some guys worth saving for next season?
A Quick History Lesson
This is certainly true of the Oilers’ rebuilds. Let’s just look at 2009-10. Remember Aaron Johnson, who played 20 minutes per game after coming over in a deadline deal from Calgary? He’s played 66 NHL games in four and a half seasons since being a top-four defenceman in Edmonton. Taylor Chorney played more than 17 minutes per game for half that season, Theo Peckham and Dean Arsene each had a dozen games and Alex Plante and Johan Motin both got cameos.
The situation up front is much the same. Gilbert Brule, Patrick O’Sullivan, Ryan Potulny, Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot, J-F Jacques, Zack Stortini and Ryan Stone were all reasonably integral parts of that 2009-10 team. And I’m not even getting into guys like Charles Linglet and Chris Minard, who are both real hockey players despite your almost certain suspicion that I’m just making names up.
And it’s not just failed rebuilds that tend to staff their rosters with a bunch of random AHL/AHL+ filler. The year before Sidney Crosby was drafted by Pittsburgh, eight of the Penguins nine top scoring forwards were Aleksey Morozov, Milan Kraft, Rico Fata, Konstantin Koltsov, Tomas Surovy, Tom Kostopulos, Brain Holzinger and Mike Eastwood (fun side point: Kelly Buchberger played 71 games for that team). The team’s top four defencemen (and I swear I’m not making this up) were Richard Jackman, Dick Tarnstrom, Drake Berehowsky and Martin Strbak.
Teams that draft really high tend to be terrible teams; it’s not uncommon for many of their top players to be out of the NHL in a short little while and it’s even more common for depth guys like Lasse Pirjeta, Eric Meloche and Patrick Boileau to disappear and not even be remembered. Looking at draft lottery contenders is a little like looking at expansion teams that have a half-dozen real NHL players.
Teams don’t talk about that of course; they have to keep selling tickets even once it’s clear that the most of the product on the ice will be reheated by the Hamburg Freezers in two years’ time. So they look at the young guys and say they’re prospects getting valuable development time and they play up the ‘finally getting a chance’ and ‘fighting for a job’ storylines for the minor league journeymen.
Are there exceptions on the current Oilers’ roster or are the players in those slots doomed to follow Lennart Petrell, Liam Reddox and Shawn Belle into obscurity?
The Dirty Dozen
Cropping out the really young and/or really blue-chip prospects and the established NHL veterans, we end up with a list that has played for Edmonton this year (and is still with the organization) which looks something like this:
- Derek Roy. Acquired by the Oilers in trade for an undrafted 5’9” forward who worked his way up from the NHL, Roy had cleared waivers shortly before Edmonton acquired him. He is a pending unrestricted free agent.
- Steven Pinizzotto. A 30-year-old with 18 games of NHL experience going into the season, Pinizzotto was acquired in a trade for failed prospect Ryan Martindale last year. The trade also included a swap of AHL contracts (Jack Combs for Derek Nesbitt). He is a pending unrestricted free agent.
- Matt Fraser. Claimed by the Oilers off waivers from Boston. He is a pending restricted free agent.
- Anton Lander. A textbook case in how not to develop talent, Anton Lander played 56 NHL games shortly after stepping off the plane from Sweden in 2011-12; he’s played 49 games total in the two and half seasons since. He is a pending restricted free agent.
- Tyler Pitlick. The oft-injured winger developed slowly in the AHL, cleared waivers earlier this season and is now once again on injured reserve. He is a pending restricted free agent.
- Iiro Pakarinen. Drafted and forgotten by Florida, Pakarinen was reclaimed from Europe by the Oilers’ scouting staff. He is on a two-way contract next season.
- Rob Klinkhammer. He was the ‘warm body’ throw-in on the David Perron-for-draft pick trade. He is a pending unrestricted free agent.
- Luke Gazdic. A pure enforcer who was claimed off waivers from Dallas. He is on a one-way contract next season.
- Brad Hunt. An undrafted defender who was snapped up from Vancouver’s AHL team. He is a pending restricted free agent.
- Martin Marincin. In 2013-14 he was an up-and-coming prospect who was one half of Edmonton’s best defence pairing. After a summer of bulking up in accordance with organizational priorities, he had a bad start to camp and is presently exiled to the minors. He is a pending restricted free agent.
- Keith Aulie. Snatched up by Edmonton after Tampa Bay declined to qualify him. He is a pending restricted free agent.
- Brandon Davidson. An overage late draft pick of the Oilers who is rapidly approaching the end of his waiver exemption. He is a pending restricted free agent.
In today’s edition of ‘What Would You Do Wednesday’, we ask simply which of those 12 players should be on the Oilers’ opening night roster next season. I see two players (Klinkhammer, Marincin) who I’d be interested in were I in Craig MacTavish’s shoes, and maybe a couple more who might be worth taking a shot on under the right circumstances but who aren’t remotely priorities.
How do you see it?